Children greeting Family Advancement Center director Nawaf Zmiro at the Sindian Center in Kalansua. Photo: courtesy

When her son was diagnosed with autism 13 years ago, “Hadijah” felt terribly alone. The stigma attached to children with disabilities in her Arab village in central Israel led Hadijah to withdraw into a world of herself and her son.

That changed only after she met Amal abu Moch, a social worker at the Family Advancement Center of the Beit Issie Shapiro Sindian Center in Kalansua, a 22,000-population Arab city in the “Triangle” district of central Israel.

Moch introduced Hadijah to other Arab parents of children with disabilities and guided her in better understanding her son’s needs and legal rights.

”Now I feel I have the tools to help my son and family,” said Hadijah, who was able to find employment once she found the appropriate care framework for her son.

The Beit Issie Shapiro (BIS) Sindian Center was founded in 2001 as Israel’s first early-intervention center for the Arab sector, at the behest of the Israeli government.

Headquartered in Ra’anana, BIS has pioneered a variety of programs onsite and offsite to ensure equal rights and integration for Israelis with disabilities.

“We believe children are children, and that’s why from day one at our Ra’anana Center of Excellence we’ve always serviced children from all sectors of Israeli society, from Orthodox Jewish to secular to Arab,” says global resource development director Benjy Maor.

However, the programs are in Hebrew and run according to the Jewish calendar. To enhance therapeutic effectiveness and cultural sensitivity, the BIS leadership was eager to fulfill the government’s request to start a program for Arabic-speaking families, led by Arab-Israeli personnel.

Sindian (“oak” in Arabic) currently serves 42 children with severe disabilities, ages six months to four years. Statistics suggest some 4,000 children in the southern Triangle have disabilities – some that aren’t seen in typical Israeli communities because religious Muslims (as well as ultra-Orthodox Jews) generally avoid genetic testing.

Sindian has been directed since 2010 by Majda Marei, who previously worked in the field of disabilities in the Arab village of Umm al-Fahm and at Emek Medical Center in Afula. She is currently completing her master’s in special education.

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